One of my favorite films of the year is John McPhail’s Anna and the Apocalypse, the rousing zom-com Christmas musical that follows a group of high schoolers who are forced to fight for their lives as a zombie apocalypse breaks out, all led by the titular character played by Ella Hunt.
Anna and the Apocalypse is currently in theaters nationwide (you can find details on where it’s playing HERE), and Daily Dead recently had the chance to speak with Hunt about taking on the role of Anna in the ambitiously delightful musical and why she fell in love with the character in the first place. Hunt also discussed some of the challenges she faced when it came to the physical aspects of her performance in Anna and the Apocalypse, working alongside director McPhail and her fellow co-stars, and more.
Congratulations on this film. I saw it last year at Fantastic Fest, and I've been patiently waiting for it to come out this year. It's so awesome to not only see it being played on big screens, but getting to see people in theaters enjoying it and everything. I got to host a couple Q&As here in Los Angeles last weekend and everybody had a blast, so really, congratulations on making something very special.
Ella Hunt: Thank you so much. That's really kind. It's so awesome to see audiences connecting with it in the way that they are. It’s so rewarding.
Going back to the beginning of this whole journey for you, What was it that you initially saw in the character of Anna when you were coming on board, where you knew that this was a character that you absolutely had to play?
Ella Hunt: I remember back when I was 15, I was in a casting room with a couple of producers and a director, and they asked me to list the two key things about that character that I was auditioning for. Just two things. They wanted her to be two things. With this movie, Anna is 100 different things. She was the opportunity to play a teenage girl in all the moments that a teenage girl can have. She has the clichés of being bored by her small town life. Yes, she has the cliché of wanting to get out of that; she's aspirational. But she's also unsure, vulnerable, dependent on her friends, bold in moments, sassy in moments, or even badass in moments. To get to be all of those things was so inspiring to me. It was the sort of movie that I'd want to watch, and she was so the character that I was looking for at the time.
One of the things I really love is there's that moment where your character is talking to John [Malcolm Cumming], and she basically declares that she’s still going to Australia. Despite everything that was going on, she hadn't given up on her dreams yet. I think that's such an interesting moment because we don't get that kind of optimism very often in films like this. Did that resonate with you at all?
Ella Hunt: More than it being optimism, I feel like she's one of those girls that realistically believes in herself. She's determined. She believes that she can. Belief is a strong theme that we run through the film. The film ends on a song that says, “I will believe.” It absolutely gives her this human touch, and I totally related to her in that respect.
It's one thing to come into a film and you have to perform as an actress. Then with this film, there's also the choreography on top of all of that, plus you have all of the singing, too. I know that's got to be really challenging to keep everything moving forward together. Can you talk a little bit about diving into all the different demands of this film and embracing the challenge that came with taking on the role of Anna?
Ella Hunt: I think there is a fluidity to this film, but it comes from the slight chaos of the film, too. Because we made it on such a low budget, the dance sequences, the fight sequences, they were organic things that we choreographed sometimes minutes before shooting, working out what we could do in the space and what we could do in the time—finding things that weren't going to be unrealistic in how prepared we were for it. In terms of playing Anna in all of the different capacities that she is in this film as the fighter, as the dancer, as the singer, it was John McPhail who rooted me. He rooted in it being a coming of age story, and whatever I was doing was just about being Anna as truly as possible.
I love to sing. I love the vocal score. I just was from the beginning connected to the internal dialogue of the songs and was excited to get to play with that. The fight choreography, the physical side of Anna, I did find a lot harder. I hadn't anticipated it and I didn't realize how ingrained in me it was, this self-deprecating side. I think a lot of girls have it. This thing of laughing at themselves. "Like a girl," is often said in a bad way. Don't fight like a girl, fight like a man.
EmmaClaire Brightlyn, my fight choreographer, sent me home after our first fight day session where I'd been laughing at myself throwing terrible punches. She told me to go home and take myself seriously and throw punches at myself in the mirror until I believed in myself. I had a lot of women around me encouraging me in similar ways on that thought. It was basically a 50/50 working ratio men to women on this film, too. That was so important to me. It was important to our producers, too. They wanted to create a work environment that was going to be as collaborative as possible, and in their opinion that meant that it needed to be that way. It needed to be an equal number of men and women. At the same time, it wasn't a tick box system either. It was all about finding the right people for the job.
I'm kind of going off on a different tangent now, but all of those women on the set of this film impacted how I played Anna, and they helped me together as far as like, "I can't do this. I don't believe in myself as this person." I think I was relieved that Anna was able to have a vulnerable side as well. I couldn't have just played her for the strong badass she is. I needed to play her to be other things for it to feel honest.
I know you guys had some time to come together before you started actually shooting, and with most ensemble films, you can tell when casts really come together beyond what you see on the screen. And with Anna, there's just so much love in this film in every single scene. Can you talk a little bit about working with your fellow cast members and John on this film, and how you all bonded, because I think it really shows in the final product.
Ella Hunt: I love them. I love them all so much. When I came onto the set, I was 18 and had a weird collection of teenage experiences where I hadn't really fitted in anywhere. I was always kind of working. I was kind of in school. I just didn't feel like I fitted in anywhere. Then, I came onto Anna and was just welcomed open-armed by Marli and Chris and Ben and Malcolm and Sarah. They taught me how to play. They taught me how to play on set. They brought out that side of me. And I think I helped teach them about the marathon of making a film and stamina. We all supported each other through it in the ways that we felt able to bring to the table. We were also respectful of each other. It was just a great joy getting to play with them. We really did play.
One last question before we go. I am a huge fan of the soundtrack, so I was wondering if you have a favorite song from the film?
Ella Hunt: I have several. Marli Siu's naughty "Santa Baby"-style song kills me every time I watch it. "Human Voice," for the contents of it, is incredible. I also love the song. It's a total soaring beauty of a song, and it talks about connectivity, which I think is important. That’s such a great moment.